Tips to remember when building a portfolio for your freelance business

If you're starting out as a freelancer, building a portfolio is one of the most important aspects of finding success. Here are a few tips to remember.
Tips to remember when building a portfolio for your freelance business

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There are a lot of things you need to launch a successful freelance business – a strong work ethic, plenty of expertise, a steady client base, and the right tools and software to support you. But you also need to have a strong portfolio to draw in clients and sell them on your expertise.

There are a few guidelines you need to follow when building a portfolio. Read on to discover how to put together a portfolio that will launch you into a successful freelance career. 

Importance of a freelance portfolio 

Before we dive into how to put together a freelance portfolio, let’s talk some about why it’s important. Your freelance portfolio gives potential clients a sample of your work. They can see if your style matches their needs and get a sense of how much experience you have working in their industry.

Your freelance portfolio is also your chance to show your skills off to potential clients. You may need to slightly tailor your portfolio for each gig you apply for so it meets the client’s needs more closely. Each of these iterations of your portfolio should be filled with your best work, projects you’re proud to show off.

Start with personal projects

Building a portfolio can bring with it something of a paradox: you need a portfolio to get gigs, but you need gigs to build a portfolio. When you’re first starting this way, don’t be afraid to think outside the box to find work to include. Personal projects can be a great way to show off your skills and expertise.

If you designed a logo or website for yourself, include that in your portfolio. Include personal writing projects, including essays, articles, or letters you’ve written that are professional and related to your potential clients’ industries. Not only can these be excellent material for your portfolio, but your passion for these projects will shine through, impressing your customers. 

Use practice projects

You can also use the projects you learned on as fantastic material for your portfolio. If you have enough expertise in an area to be doing freelance work in it, you have a solid set of projects you practiced on to gain your skills. 

If you have any formal education in the area you’re freelancing in, include your class projects in your portfolio. If you’re self-taught, use some of the projects you learned on. Just make sure these examples reflect your best work today and include all of the techniques you can now bring to bear in client projects. 

Organize by importance 

When you’re organizing your portfolio, it can be easy to simply slap everything in as you come across it and move on with your day. But you need to make sure to organize your portfolio by importance. You don’t want a client to see some of your less relevant work at the top and stop looking.

Reorganize your portfolio to include work relevant to the client’s needs at the top. This will let them know at the top that you have the skills they need; the rest of your portfolio can do the work of filling in the rest of your expertise. And always, always make sure your name and how to get ahold of you or book you are easy to find.

Explain your process

When we think of a portfolio, many of us picture a collection of sample work that speaks for itself. But your portfolio doesn’t have to be all show and no tell. In fact, explaining some about your process can give clients a better insight into your skill as a freelancer, as well as helping to fill out thinner portfolios.

Spend a little time after each sample explaining how you approached the project and what skills you used most while working on it. Talk about the challenges you ran into and how you overcame them and which pieces of the project you’re most proud of. Do try to keep these commentaries to a few sentences, though, as you don’t want your clients to lose interest.

Consider your target client

As we’ve mentioned, it’s a good idea to adjust your portfolio for each new client you send an application to. Unless you’re working in a very niche industry, every client is going to have different needs. And even within niche industries, your clients will have different styles that you’ll need to meet.

Before you send your portfolio to any potential new client, take some time to think about their specific needs and style. Tailor your portfolio, including the organization of it, to meet those needs, and place projects that are stylistically similar at the top of the page. This can help draw in clients who will see the style they’re looking for in your work and be more willing to hire you.

Discuss your education or training

If you’ve just gotten out of school, your portfolio may be a little thin, even if you have the expertise you need to get a job done. Even if you use your school and personal projects, it’s hard to make up the kind of expertise long-term freelance work will garner you. One way to fill out a thin-looking portfolio is to talk about your education.

Clients will like to see that you received a solid education in the skills they’re paying you for. Discuss the school you went to, including any accreditations that the institution has. Also discuss specific relevant classes you took, any awards you won, or other experience you got during your education.

Include press about you

Another great way to beef up a somewhat thin portfolio, and wow your potential clients, is to include press clippings about yourself. This kind of outside attention can be a way to show off your skills without sounding like you’re bragging. And showing off that you got press attention can give your clients the impression that you stand out from the crowd. 

If you’ve ever won any awards or special recognitions, include the announcements about those in your portfolio. If you’ve ever had a newspaper article written about your business, toss that in. And include any mention of you in industry publications, including newsletters and magazines. 

Include critiques 

One great way to show off your expertise in your area without having a ton of projects of your own is to critique other people’s work. It’s incredibly important that you do a true critique for these, not just a criticism. You don’t want to give the impression that you’ll criticize others’ work without actually doing any of your own. 

Instead, point out things that other people in your field did well, and discuss what you would do differently. Frame this as an academic discussion, rather than a message to the designer or writer. This can show off what you know and establish you as an expert in the field. 

Be generous

Another great way to position yourself as an industry leader is to be generous with your knowledge. If someone comes to you asking for advice, be open with what you know, and do your best to help them. Not only will this give you a chance to show off your expertise, but you’ll also earn another network connection who can promote your work to others. 

Also, be generous to your clients with your time and with samples. If they ask you to design a sample logo before they hire you to redesign their website or ask for a sample article before bringing you on as a staff writer, oblige them. But do try to keep this sample work to under an hour, and make sure you get paid fairly for your work going forward. 

Keep your portfolio updated

Once you’ve assembled your portfolio, it can be tempting to leave it alone. But if you’re approaching freelance work the right way, you should always be learning and growing. Your portfolio needs to represent the latest and best of your work, and that should always be changing. 

When you complete a project you’re especially proud of, add it to your portfolio. Pay special attention to filling out sections of your portfolio that are a little lacking or adding projects that fit within your preferred niche. And always keep an eye on old projects, removing them when they no longer represent your best work.

Find tips for building a portfolio 

Building a portfolio is crucial for anyone wanting to make their way as a freelancer. This will be when you can show off your skills to potential clients and convince them you’re the right person for the job. Keep your best work at the forefront, and don’t be afraid to get creative in filling out a thinner portfolio.

If you’d like to find more tips for advancing your freelancer career, check out the rest of our site at We believe you were made to create, develop, optimize, and grow, and we’re here to help you do that. Join us today and start running your business the stress-free way.

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Our team of career freelancers writes about best invoice practices, what makes a great client, and repeats the mantra, "never work without a contract." We're opinionated about the future of work and will always be on the side of freelancers.
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